Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Innovation is Finally in the NYC Education Conversation

I’ve been working in education more than a decade having to work on the DL to sneak innovation into the classrooms and schools in the name of taking the risks that our students need for success. In a system of banning, filtering and outdated mandates, I’ve been morally compelled to sneak in, break in, and secretly help teachers and myself prepare students for real-world success. Unfortunately, for much of my career, my idea of innovation and preparation did not match with the powers that be who saw success couched in standardized tests that make testing companies richer and can affect the success of a politician, but do a horrible job of actually doing what they are touted to do. Assess student and school success.

It seems, New York City is now moving in the right direction. Mayor Bloomberg addressed NBC's Education Nation Summit outlining his education priorities for the next few years. I’m finally psyched to be a part of the educational vision and priorities of my district. Bloomberg outlined a four step plan which you can read in full here.

What I’m most excited about is the city’s strategy for supporting kids for career and college readiness. This involves fundamentally redesigning classroom learning. Bloomberg describes this as follows. “By empowering teachers to use cutting edge technology, we’ll help them tailor lesson plans around the individual learning needs of students – and give every student more personal attention.”

He adds, “Our work to connect students to college and careers, is nothing short of revolutionary. Imagine, for a minute, looking into a classroom, and instead of seeing some kids raising their hands to every question, and others just daydreaming, you see a small group working with a teacher in one corner, other kids working individually on their portable computers, and other kids working together on the same project, online.”
  • I’d like to add to this and take the learning out of just school walls and inside traditional building hours, but it’s definitely progress.
He also shares that “Everywhere you go in this school, rather than lecturing at students as a class, teachers will be working with students as individuals or small teams on projects and lessons specifically tailored to their own learning styles and needs.”
  • To this I’d like to add that as scary as it is for some to let go of tradition, I hope we learn to dispel the myth of the traditional teacher owning this role. Bringing teachers who are experts into the learning from the community and across the globe via the internet is impactful and oft times these experts may themselves be students. This also means, at time that time or place are unnecessary constraints when speaking of global connections and that students escape the walls of school to tap into community resources for local connections.
Bloomberg explains that “those scenes are playing out more and more every single school day here in New York City I’m happy to say. We’ve created 80 Innovation Schools that have started down the ground-breaking path of using technology to design individual learning plans for each child. In an iPad world, our students shouldn’t be stuck looking at overhead projectors. With funding help from our State, we can make every single school in New York City ready for this high-tech program, and we can work with teachers to transform 400 of our schools into Innovation Schools over the next three years. But to make them fully functional, we’ll also need the State to take two other steps.
  • These next two steps are exciting news and something myself and colleagues have been pushing for passionately for years including last week in Albany. How exciting to hear this come from the mayor:
“First, an old State law requires schools to buy printed textbooks rather than the digital content. That may be good business for the textbook industry, but it really is a bad deal for our students in this day and age. Second, we’ll work with the State to end what is called ‘seat time,’ which requires that all students spend a certain number of hours in their seats on every subject – even if they’ve already learned what’s expected of them.”
  • All I can say is, “Hear! Hear!!!!”
Bloomberg asked, “What if Maria has mastered 10th grade biology by April, instead of June? Why not let her jump-start on chemistry? Technology can empower our teachers and students – and we must take advantage of it.”
  • Agree! Grouping students by what Sir Ken Robinson has dubbed as “date of manufacture” really makes no sense at all. Let’s group students by talents, passions, interests, and abilities. Students are age grouped in life? Squashing this artificial construct is long overdue!
“The 400 Innovation schools we are planning reflect our determination to give parents more top-quality school choices – and that’s our fourth and final strategy for connecting students to college and careers.”
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